But it shouldn’t be.
It really shouldn’t.
I mean, think about it. When a ship is listing to one side, it’s just like a friend leaning forward to listen to you, perhaps cupping a hand behind her ear. Okay, not just like, but it’s the same general concept, right?
I liked the theory, so, I hied myself to my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary in glee to prove it, but alas…
You have to go all the way down to usage number 3 to find the list that means “a tilting or inclining to one side.” For the derivation, it tells you to look at usage number 2, “to be pleasing to; suit” (Archaic). That meaning of the word comes ultimately from the Old English lystan, which is also the base of the word lust.
(BONUS: Interesting take on the word lust, isn’t it, to include the idea of tilting or inclining toward something?)
Then my finger moved down the page to find listen. Sadly for my theory, listen comes from the Old English hlysnan, from the Indo-European root kleu, “to hear.” (Sorry, I don’t explain how these words came from these roots. I just report.)
And to muddy the waters: the first definition of list (the definition that means “a series of names, words, numbers, etc. set forth in order”) comes from the Indo-European root leizd-, meaning edge or border. Its obsolete definition was “a narrow strip or border,” and so our current idea of list came from the concept of writing a series of names or whatnot on a narrow strip of paper.
I like Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary definition of list, where he says it is more elegant to say enlist when you are registering your name on a list or catalogue. But he doesn’t list the derivation for either list or listen.
WORD NERD CHALLENGE: Check out the derivation of the word hear. What do you say is the difference between listening and hearing? Leave a comment…I’d love to hear your thoughts!